5 Mistakes to AVOID when Building your New Home
Anne-Marie Brunet, CKBD, CAPS
If you’re planning on building a new home, or are in the process of planning your new construction, I’m so glad you found this blog. I am sharing some of my *Insider Tips* with you so that you can avoid some of these mistakes to help make your new construction as painless as possible.
I’m sharing 5 tips but there are many, many other things you need to think about during the planning and construction process, and these 5 Mistakes are the ones that annoy me consistently on….every….new…. construction….project.
In my 21 years in the design/build industry I still run across these issues that clients just don’t know about (so don’t know to ask about) yet are left to deal with the aftermath long after the contractor has ‘left the building’.
I can tell you that these seemingly insignificant details, to someone who doesn’t know the difference or cares to know, will have an impact on the final product (your home) and your life (disappointment, annoyance and costly $$) with design and décor failure. I use the word ‘failure’ because if you don’t catch these in time, you’re probably going to have to pay twice to get it right (if you’re lucky enough to have the $$) – and who wants to pay twice!
So while I am sharing stuff about the ‘nuts and bolts’ about some parts of the construction process, I promise to put in some pretty pictures too to keep your attention 🙂
….and…I’ll forgive you if you thought interior design was only just about ‘the pretty’ that’s ok because you can’t know what you don’t know…right?
So let’s get started.
Let’s face it there are just some details that contractors/builders and certain trades don’t think about because it’s not their job to worry about those details, especially ones that don’t affect their ability to do their job and get in and get out. BELIEVE ME when I tell you that they will not be worrying about these details once they’ve left your job site, but let me tell you – YOU will (and probably me when you call for DESIGN CRISIS help)
So here are some little pearls of wisdom for you to share with your contractor, boring as they may be to look at, you’ll thank me later – I promise 🙂
#1. DESIGN, PLANNING AND DETAILED PLANS
I know I know, it’s been said a thousand times before but here it is again DON’T SKIMP ON THE PLANNING PROCESS OR YOUR PLANS!
I’m sure you’ve heard the sayings ‘Measure Twice and Cut Once’ or ‘Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail’ right? All of these quotes and tips you read about to come by as a result of people learning by their mi$$takes, and or for whatever reason thought they could take a shortcut, either because they didn’t know any better, or were impatient to ‘just get going’.
I can tell you this with certainty that if you don’t have 80-90% of the details planned in advance you will be in for a difficult build, you might even piss off your contractor because he has to keep waiting on you for decisions, thus delaying your project and his schedule.
You’ll probably also end up spending extra money needlessly by having to change things halfway through because it ‘doesn’t look like I thought it would’…and let’s face it when you’re spending upwards of $500,000.00 for a new house these days – isn’t that stressful enough?
I know that for some people who are really really visual, planning and looking a bunch of lines and dots on a big piece of paper is like the….MOST….BORING….PART… of the process (yawn) but trust me when I tell you that this is the MOST….IMPORTANT…PART of the process. Yes, it will take time before you start seeing anything concrete coming to life, but it is imperative to have EVERYTHING or as much of EVERYTHING, is scoped out before you start digging.
“Oh I’ll have plenty of time to pick stuff out once we get going,” you say. Well guess what, unless you don’t have to go to work and can devote 100% of your time to the project, unless knowing all the lingo, and unless you know where to get the right information, unless you know the right questions to ask, you won’t have time to later – period. You will become frustrated, overwhelmed and maybe even start ‘cutting corners’ just to ‘get it done’ and ‘meet deadlines’.
You don’t deserve that! You have worked hard, scrimped and saved to get your first house, or your dream home, or your retirement home, and there’s too much money at stake to do this ‘on the fly’.
Take the time to plan your home’s layout, then look at it every day for at least 2 weeks, live with it to see if there’s anything that annoys you, or if you’re just ‘accepting’ stuff because most everything else seems to work.
These days with all of the technology available to give you a photo-realistic view of what your home and space will look like, it’s even more of an incentive to get everything down on paper before you even call the contractor. There’s lots of emotion and money that go into building a house, and if everyone is not on the same page, you’re guaranteed a bumpy ride.
The better prepared you are, the better the relationship you’ll have with your contractor, the easier the build will be and the quicker your project will move along. Trust me when I tell you this, or read testimonials from my clients here, you’ll be much happier with the whole process and outcome and have a whole lot less stress!
2. BLOCKING – WHAT IS IT AND WHY YOU NEED IT
I will address two of the areas that require blocking (sometimes referred to as bridging), for interior design and decorating purposes, but get missed the most on a construction or renovation project. I require additional blocking on all my projects for window treatments and in planning for future requirements such as Aging-In-Place or Living-In-Place.
WHAT IS IT?
‘Blocking’, as is referred to in the trade, is the application of a horizontal solid piece of wood, either 2×8 or 2×10 or another suitable size, between the studs. This serves to add structure and stability to your walls.
WHY YOU NEED IT
BLOCKING or Window Treatments and Draperies
While most homes will have a header above the window, no one thinks to add extra material for support on either side of the window. In some instances, even the window’s header is not suitably tall enough if the ceiling height is more than 8’.(See photo of Anatomy of a Window a little further down)
Why is this a big deal? Well if you want draperies and there is nothing to attach the support brackets to beyond the window frame, you could have a problem (and probably will) depending on the type of window treatment you’re wanting. Your drapery and hardware could end up on the floor after a couple of tugs to close.
‘Use anchors they say’ – yes I’ve heard this countless times from those trying to ‘get in and get out’ or take a shortcut. Anchors are not always sufficient to hang a rod and draperies on, and if the hardware is not secured properly it will fall down – I know because it happened to me on one installation. A beautiful layered window treatment that the client insisted on us putting up, even though we expressed our concern about not having anything solid (wood) to attach to. Well as fate would have it, I got a call about 1 week later saying that the drapery and rods had fallen off the wall!
Thankfully no one was hurt and they didn’t have little kids running around.
I’ll spare you the rest of the details – just know that I will not compromise on this EVER again, and this is a lesson for you.
I discuss this at length with my clients when designing custom window treatments.
So if you want functional AND decorative window treatments in your new home, you need to plan for this ahead of time and insist that your contractor add blocking above your windows – if there is no header or if the header is too small – and on either side of ALL your windows. This should not be an extra $$ on your tab since there are many cutoff pieces from other lumber that goes to waste on a job site….juss sayin’
In this picture, you can see that there is no additional blocking on either side of the windows. The yellow arrows show where you would need blocking. In this case, I would add at least another 6-8” above the header and at least 8-12” beyond window frame on either side.
While there technically is a ‘header’ (the horizontal piece of wood above the opening), it is not really large/tall enough to accommodate where we would actually hang the draperies from – because of the ceiling height which looks to be about 9’.
I know you’re looking at those vertical studs on either side of the opening and thinking that should be enough right? Well not exactly and that would be a ‘hard’ no. The decorative trim pieces that go around your windows and doors (called casing) will be installed over those vertical studs closest to the window or door opening. This is great for the finish carpenter to have something to nail those casings/mouldings to, however your drapery installer won’t have anything to secure your hardware to. You’ll need to add the extra wood blocks to accommodate installing your drapery hardware securely.
BLOCKING For Bathrooms
Building codes, in my neck of the woods, now require some blocking in your bathroom walls…why??..so that in the future you can add grab bars where required without having to rip out your walls and tile. This is just good planning if you want to Age-In-Place or Live-In-Place in your own home, instead of going to a retirement home.
Plan now and save later! There are many ways to modify your home to Age-In-Place and I will share specific information about that in upcoming blog posts.
#3. WINDOWS AND JAMB DEPTH
Coming back to the subject of windows.
Window Jamb Depth is also important in planning for window coverings. Unless you’re fortunate enough to not have any neighbours and don’t need privacy, and you have lots of roof overhang or a porch so you don’t have to worry about the sun’s UV rays, you’re probably going to want to put something in your windows for either protection, privacy and decor, or all three. (See more about headers and window anatomy a little further down)
In NEW CONSTRUCTION you’ll want a MINIMUM 3” – 3 ½” jamb depth for today’s blinds and shades to live inside the window frame – this is called Inside Mount installation. Some of the new blind cassettes (the top piece the blind rolls up into) can be bulky, and depending on the construction of your window you’ll need some flexibility as to where the blind will sit inside the window. You don’t want the blind so close to your window screen that you can’t take the screen out, (guilty happened once) nor do you want the cassette protruding past the window frame (that just looks like you forgot to plan for them).
Inside mount is the preferred installation for most contemporary and traditional interiors. Great for contemporary interiors, as some don’t have any trim moulding around the window, and you’ll get a nice flush fit to the drywall. Great for traditional interiors so that you don’t cover up those beautiful mouldings you spent so much money on.
Motorized shades and window treatments could also require additional wiring and additional jamb depth to accommodate motors and receivers, but that’s a whole other topic for another blog post.
NOTE: Window construction type ie: vinyl or wood will also have an impact on window treatment installation. You should always discuss your window covering plans with your window supplier or interior designer before ordering your windows.
Below an illustration of the ANATOMY OF A WINDOW and TRIM
Phew, that was a lot of info just on windows right? Stay with me only two more items to go!
#4. HVAC & LIGHTING CONTROLS – ANOTHER BIG PET PEEVE OF MINE!!
I know that at some point some of you have gone to visit your job site and have come face to face with the dreaded WALL ACNE – I feel your pain!!
If you can’t be on site when the HVAC trades come to run their wiring and cabling, make sure you have a clear plan on where to put the controls ; ie: thermostat, light switches, keypads, etc., and that everyone is aware of and follows the plan, or you could end up with the dreaded WALL ACNE…and the cure for that is expensive!
There is nothing more disappointing and angering to clients than walking through their brand new home and finding 1, or worse yet, 2 walls that have been co-opted for this utilitarian purpose.
You know you can say bye-bye to artwork, or family pictures, or whatever else you thought you were planning for this wall.
Unfortunately a lot of people miss this crucial step, because;
1; these trades are not usually in on the walk-thru you did 2 weeks ago with the electrician
2; they are different trades than the electrician
3; clients don’t know to ask about it
4; there was no plan (there’s that dreaded word again – sheesh!)
This happens way more often than you think, and you might already be living with a wall like this in your home. I’m pretty sure when you saw it you might have asked yourself the same question I have a million times in the past;
“ Why can’t these guys all get together and line up the controls together in one spot?”…right?
…and once the drywall is up and finished, well it will be somewhat difficult to change and in some cases it might be too late or impossible to change their locations.
Well with some advanced planning there is always a way to have this done right the first time.
This is what a good job should look like – all perfectly lined up like little soldiers.
If you have the budget consider including and using Digital Interfaces for all of your lighting and electronic control needs. These small units provide many more functions all in one switch location, and are nice and sleek looking.
#5. LIGHTING FIXTURES AND BUDGET (Stay with me this one’s a biggy)
This is one of those line items in a construction budget that is SO important, but gets glossed over, that I needed to include it in this Top 5 Mistakes to Avoid blog.
Most people rarely get this part right – and how could you if you don’t deal with lighting fixtures, electrical plans or lighting layouts on a daily basis and don’t know the ins and outs of this wiry animal (see what I did there – wiry…light fixtures…wires…ok you get it)
Typically the builder or contractor gives you an allowance in your building quote, and I’m guessing you have no idea if it’s too low or just right, so you just go with it. I’m here to tell you it’s most ALWAYS TOO LOW.
You get the call from your builder that it’s time to do a walk-through of the house so you can tell them where you want the pretty lights and how many of them you want.
You walk through looking at naked 2×4’s and plywood everywhere – I call this going ‘into the woods’ phase – and you all start staring at the ceiling and point here and there at the ceiling.
You can’t believe how much bigger everything looks, compared to the plan you approved 6 months ago!
BTW if you skipped the planning stages (waayyyy back at the beginning) you probably didn’t think you’d need a lighting layout or plan, or better yet no one ever told you that that was a service you should look into – so you didn’t get a lighting layout done and the builder didn’t ask for one before doing his estimate.
So you walk around the house, pointing some more, and the builder nods yes and makes notes and marks on the walls and ceiling, all the while thinking back to his quote of the light/1 switch per room – you see where I’m going here?
But wait, you wanted pot lights in the corners of your dining room, you wanted to highlight the stone on the fireplace, you wanted a 3-way light switch here, and under cabinet lights, etc…but…WOOPS…. that’s not what your builder was thinking back when he was putting your estimate together, he was probably thinking of the typical 1 light – 1 switch per room scenario.
…and now he gives you the REAL costs and your light fixture budget just got blown…AND you have to start making compromises….and that’s just the interior. You haven’t even talked about the exterior lighting, landscaping lighting or some of the cool new lighting controls.
A word of advice – you can almost guarantee on at least DOUBLING and better yet TRIPLING the amount of your electrical estimate if you’re going to want your dream home to look great!
Lighting is but one of the elements that go into making your home feel welcoming, luxurious, relaxing….and one lonely little ceiling fixture in a room is just not going to cut it.
I hear a lot of people say that they’ll take the ‘cheap lights’ for now and upgrade later, and you know what happens? They never do, they run out of money, life gets in the way, the light fixtures eventually fail and now they….HAVE TO….BUY….SOMETHING and the cycle starts all over again.
The other mistake I see people make in taking the ‘cheap light package’, is not planning for future requirements.
If you really cannot go all out with your lighting budget, do yourself the favour of at least getting the right fixtures (size and quantity) in the right location in your most important rooms. Then include a plan for your future lighting requirements. (The same way you added the blocking for grab bars for future planning)
This means that you get the wiring run now for the rooms that you will finish or upgrade later as your budget permits.
But in order to do that you have to PLAN.
A LIGHTING PLAN is what will save you a lot of heartache, money and drywall dust in the future. Yes, it’s boring to have to think that far ahead, but your home and you will be brilliant (pun intended), gorgeous and shiny when it’s all done.
If you’re having difficulty with your lighting layout, or are stuck on where to start on lighting your home, you’re in the right place! I have a Certificate in Lighting Fundamentals from the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) and I can help you ‘shine a light on it’!
These 5 tips are just a small sampling of what you need to think about when embarking on a New Construction or Remodelling project.
Thanks for reading to the end – I hope you have found the information useful and timely.
…and now for your reward – a cute puppy picture – you’re welcome 🙂
As a designer, I do this day in and day, I know the ‘drill’ and the lingo so to speak, and can easily liaison with you and your contractor so that everyone has the right information in a timely manner.
Having the right designer on your team will go a long way to catching and preventing these oversights and getting you the home you always wanted.
If you need help planning for your new construction project or want to get a second opinion, by all means, fill out the form below and we’ll book at FREE 15-minute Discovery Call to see how we can work together to show off both you and your house in the best possible light.
Until next time…